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Arthritis research & therapy

Modulation of peripheral T-cell function by interleukin-7 in rheumatoid arthritis.


PMID 25533722

Abstract

Interleukin-7 (IL-7) is a cytokine essential for T-cell lymphopoiesis, survival and polarization with an emerging role in autoimmunity. We previously demonstrated reduced levels of circulating IL-7 in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), although high amounts are expressed in joints, suggesting differences between systemic and synovial effects. We observed healthy levels of IL-7 in 48% of RA patients in clinical remission (CR) and aimed to investigate the consequences of IL-7 deficiency on T-cell responses. We used RA patients with active disease and in CR presenting various levels of IL-7, to investigate its modulatory effects on T cells by analysing responses to phyto-haemagglutinin (PHA), expression of polarization or survival factors, or suppression by regulatory T cells (Tregs). IL-7 levels were normal (>10xa0pg/ml) in 48% of RA patients in CR. Amongst 63 CR patients followed up for 18xa0months, lack of IL-7 recovery was observed in 13 out of 15 (86%) patients experiencing relapse but only 11 out of 48 (23%) of those who did not (P = 0.0002). Binary regressions showed high significance for below normal IL-7 levels for self-reported maternal family history of arthritis (odds ratio (OR): 7.66, P = 0.006) and a trend for smoking (OR: 3.33, P = 0.068) with no further demographic or clinical associations. Serum IL-7 correlated with restored CD4+T-cell response to PHA (rho = 0.879); this was not related to an increase in T-cell proliferation capacity or expression of survival factors B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL2) and BCL2-associated protein X (BAX). Expression of Th1 polarization factor (TBET) was also dependent on exposure to IL-7 in vivo (rho = 0.600). In contrast CD25highTregs' response to PHA was not affected by in vivo IL-7, but their suppression capabilities were related to circulating IL-7 (rho = 0.589). Co-stimulation with IL-7 (mimicking the joint environment) increased responsiveness of CD4+T-cells to PHA, lowering the ability of CD25highTregs to suppress them. Our data demonstrate that IL-7 has a critical role in modulating T-cell function in vivo, possibly explaining opposing effects observed systemically and in the joint. Lack of IL-7 recovery in CR by maintaining a suppressed immune system may be a determinant factor in the occurrence of relapse.

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